Like a Billboard, but, Oh, So Sleek
The New York Times
November 4, 2008
ONE of the biggest and fanciest shopping malls
in Europe opened here last week in a test of British
consumers’ ability to keep spending during a steep
downturn. The shopping center, Westfield London, is also
shaping up as a vast experiment in making over the
CBS Outdoor, a division of the CBS media conglomerate,
has installed more than 100 digital advertising screens
at Westfield, including one covering 646 square feet.
While electronic ad displays have been placed in other
shopping centers and are widely installed in airports
and urban transport systems, Westfield London is one of
the first developments with such a large concentration
of digital billboards; nondigital advertising has been
banished from the site. To make them blend in with chic
Westfield shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany, the
screens are housed in sleek pods made of Corian.
The idea, said Clive Punter, chief executive of CBS
Outdoor International, is to try to attract new kinds of
clients to so-called outdoor or out-of-home advertising,
including luxury brands. High-end marketers often prefer
print advertising in magazines and newspapers. The sight
of workers in paste-splattered jumpsuits wrestling soggy
posters into position is not necessarily in keeping with
what luxury marketers refer to as their “brand values.”
Luxury brands have dabbled in outdoor advertising, but
often this has been for entry-level or spinoff lines,
rather than the main, high-end labels. Giorgio Armani,
for instance, has recently featured the British soccer
star David Beckham modeling Emporio Armani underwear on
But like other marketers, makers of luxury goods are
getting more adventurous in their choice of media. Louis
Vuitton, for instance, has advertised on television this
year for the first time. Cartier has developed “branded
pages” for MySpace, the online social network.
Digital screens like those at Westfield are “a new
environment that will be attractive to some advertisers
that haven’t used outdoor before,” said Steve Parker,
managing director of the London office of MediaVest, a
media buying agency.
The screens allow advertisers to display still images,
as with posters, but also let them show television-style
video ads. That means the billboard operator can charge
a premium for the space and can accommodate more
advertisers than with a traditional billboard.
Mr. Punter, of CBS Outdoor, said, “A moving,
high-quality image is a lot more attractive than a
But creating the right ads for digital billboards will
be a challenge for advertisers and their agencies. Mr.
Parker said that simply reusing a television ad might
not be effective because unlike television audiences,
shoppers are constantly on the move, making it harder to
get their attention.
The biggest benefit of digital outdoor systems is their
flexibility, said Jeremy Male, managing director for
Northern and Central Europe at JCDecaux, another outdoor
advertising company. A coffee brand, for example, could
display an ad for its regular blend in the morning, but
switch that to the decaffeinated version for the evening
“Digital doesn’t change the audience,” Mr. Male said,
“but it changes your ability to interact with the
audience in a very efficient way.”
For now, some luxury brands seem content to let others
experiment at Westfield. While Tiffany has signed up to
use the digital screens, other high-end advertisers,
like Mulberry, a British maker of leather goods, and
Yves Saint Laurent are advertising on stationary panels
Elsewhere, however, there are signs that a wider range
of companies are increasingly interested in outdoor
advertising as it sharpens its appearance and goes
Brands like Jean Paul Gaultier and Bose, the maker of
sound systems, for example, have advertised on digital
screens installed in British airports by JCDecaux.
Dunhill and Dolce & Gabbana have advertised in the
London Underground transit system, where CBS Outdoor has
invested $116 million over the last few years to revamp
the advertising displays. Among other things, it has
installed about 2,000 digital screens, including some
that project the images across the tracks onto the walls
of the tunnels.
At a time when advertisers are cutting back on their
spending in many other media, digital outdoor
advertising remains a growth area.
Mr. Male said digital ads this year would generate about
10 percent of the ad revenue for BAA, the operator of
Heathrow and other British airports.
Mr. Punter said spending on digital outdoor ads was
rising at an annual rate of 40 percent in Britain, even
when adjusted for the increased number of sites as more
screens are installed.
“Digital is still flying off the shelves,” he said.
“It’s going gangbusters.”
Speaking of airports, for travelers rushing through the
London Heathrow or Frankfurt airports this week with a
dead mobile phone or a missing hotel reservation, there
may be a place to turn. Look for booths marked with a
big blue “Z” in the international departures areas.
The stands are help points set up by Zurich Financial
Services. They will offer free Internet access,
cellphone and laptop charge-ups and other assistance for
travelers, including cleaning materials to deal with
spilled coffee and information about travel
destinations, the company says.
One thing they will not offer is insurance, Zurich’s
usual line of business.
Why is Zurich getting involved in the kinds of things
that airlines used to do for their passengers?
The stands are part of a new marketing campaign aimed at
“focusing on customers when it really matters,” said
Arun Sinha, head of marketing at Zurich Financial.
Market research has shown that fewer than 15 percent of
consumers trusted any insurance brand, he said.
“This is not about hard sell,” Mr. Sinha said. “This is
more about trying to build consideration and
favorability for the brand.”